Back pain that won’t go away after two years of conventional treatment may actually be due to a cause far more seious than just an irritated disc or muscle spasms.
“It is possible that back pain experienced over two years could be attributable to pancreatic cancer,” says Jordan Winter, MD, a hepato-pancreatic-biliary and oncology surgeon and Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
“However, it is important to note that other causes of back pain are much more common, and these include musculoskeletal pain or kidney stones,” continues Dr. Winter.
Pancreatic cancer isn’t the only cancer that can cause back pain, either.
Spinal tumors (primary or metastatic), for example, can cause back pain, but there’d also very likely be some degree of upper or lower extremity numbness, weakness or partial paralysis fairly soon after the presentation of back pain, if back pain is the first symptom.
Two more cancers that can cause back pain are prostate and ovarian.
But don’t panic over reading this, because, as Dr. Winter pointed out, back pain not only is far more likely to have a benign cause (including after two years), but back pain is American’s No. 1 non-fatal health problem!
Common Benign Causes of Back Pain
• Poor biomechanics when lifting something
• Deconditioning of lumbar soft tissue
• Excessive loading of a vertebral disc (e.g., lifting furniture)
• Bulging or herniated disc
• Sleeping on an uncomfortable surface
• Premenstrual syndrome
• Inflammatory bowel disease
“Also, it is possible for benign disease of the pancreas to cause similar symptoms, and some of these pathologies can progress or degenerate into pancreatic cancer over time,” adds Dr. Winter.
“These include pancreatic cysts or pancreatitis. Therefore, it is important for a thorough evaluation to be performed, and sometimes for patients to be followed over time.”
What Pancreatic Cancer Back Pain Feels Like
“Back pain attributable to pancreatic cancer is often a dull ache that radiates from the front to the back.”
This course of pain, however, can also be caused by gas.
“It does not shoot down the leg and it is not tender to palpation,” continues Dr. Winter.
“It is often unrelenting — it does not go away. It seems to come from deep within the abdomen.
“There are no specific red flags with pancreatic cancer-associated back pain, other than the fact that the symptoms can often occur with other pancreatic cancer-related symptoms (weight loss, diabetes, jaundice).” two years
In addition to surgical management of pancreatic and related cancers, Dr. Winter treats other upper gastrointestinal malignancies and abdominal tumors. He has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles, many on pancreatic cancer.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.